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Paving The Way For Rule-based Water Diplomacy In Central Asia

World Water Congress 2015 Edinburgh Scotland
12. Transboundary river basins and shared aquifers
Author(s): Dinara Ziganshina (Tashkent

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 12: Transboundary river basins and shared aquifers,



Water diplomacy (or 'hydrodiplomacy') has recently become a new catchword in the field of development and international relations. In its conclusions on EU water diplomacy, the European Council notes that managing the effects of climate change and demographic and economic development, as well as reconciling different uses of water resources such as drinking water and sanitation, agriculture, food production, industry and energy, are major water security challenges. The Council expresses concern about the water security situation in many parts of the world, with drawing particular attention to the situation around the Nile basin and in Central Asia. The Council also highlights the potential of water diplomacy to help safeguard security, development, prosperity and the human rights of water and sanitation. The move beyond relationships solely between riparian states in dealing with transboundary water issues has been also evidenced in the recent linking of water stress in Asia and Africa with the national security of North America. The 2011 United States Senate Report stressing that water plays an increasingly important role in US diplomatic and security interests outlines the country's possible involvement with respect to water scarcity and water management in Central and South Asia.


This paper seeks to contribute to the debate by synthesizing and encapsulating sets of complex interrelations under the rubric of water diplomacy and examine its potential to addressing contemporary water challenges around the globe, with a special focus on Central Asia, where water issues are at the heart of current debates over food, water, energy and environmental security and where geopolitical realities and globalized connections inject additional dynamics and complexity into the relations between countries over water use and management.

Analysis suggests that at the very least, the emerging notion of water diplomacy can be characterized by three distinctive elements: (i) the preventive nature of diplomacy in maintaining peace and security as encapsulated in the UN Charter; (ii) the need for a dialogue in which traditional bilateral diplomacy is complimented by multilateral and multilevel diplomacy; and (iii) the notion of the collective responsibility of the international community (Wouters & Ziganshina, 2010). The functions of traditional diplomacy as defined in the Vienna Convention of 1961 to include representation, protection of own citizens, negotiation, collection and transmission of information, reporting, promotion of friendly relations, and development of economic, cultural and scientific relations has been revisited to demonsrate that some of these functions (eg negotiation) are gaining the bigger role and importance and others have to deal with structural and institutional transformations (eg represenattion). Given that the most new challenges such as resource constraints, climate change, energy and environmental security are rooted in science and driven by technology, this contribution highlights the rising role of science and public diplomacy in international relations.

Results and Discussion

The theoretical underpinnings of the paper are tested on real-world examples. Thus, the paper demonstrates different features of water diplomacy on the examples of current practice of selected states. For example, Switzerland positions itself as an exemplar upstream nation by maintaining 'good upstream neighbour policy' within Europe and promotes the development of new and influential vehicles for policy negotiation and coordination, high level contacts and co-financing of concrete projects, in key hot spots or regions with high potential for water conflict (Blue Peace initiative in the Middle East, 'Blue diplomacy', Geneva Water Hub, leading role in UNECE Water Convention). Similarly, Germany's foreign policy revolves around ideas of 'working for peace' and 'managing globalization' which includes focus on resource security, climate protection, water-related issues. Since 2008, the Federal Foreign Office has been using its Central Asia Water Initiative to shape cooperation in the region.

From a different angle, niche diplomacy of the Netherlands and Singapore will be discussed to learn lessons for Central Asia. Netherlands promotes niche water diplomacy based on its strengths in networking, expertise and capacity for water-specific leadership. Singapore's water diplomacy has long centred on engaging Malaysia, which it has historically relied on for its freshwater supply. However, over the years, Singapore has been able to transform its weakness -- its extreme water insecurity -- into a strength by leveraging on technology and implementing advanced water solutions.


Clearly, security and development became the key elements of contemporary international relations, with water being an essential basis for security and driving force behind development. With this in mind, if governments are to deal effectively with these fundamental international policy issues, they must engage in a new form of rule-based diplomacy that makes use of the power of knowledge, persuasion and dialogue to build trustful and meaningful relationships and achieve positive change. To this end the machinery and means of diplomacy and international law must be considered together and used in tandem. 1. Bolewski, W. 2007. Diplomacy and international law in globalized relations, Berlin, Springer.

2. European Union, Council conclusions on EU water diplomacy. FOREIG AFFAIRS Council meeting, Brussels, 22 July 2013

3. Islam Sh. & Susskind L. 2012. Water diplomacy a negotiated approach to managing complex water networks. FF Press.

4. Mely Caballero Anthony & Pau Khan Khup Hangzo, 2012. From water insecurity to niche water diplomacy: The Singapore experience. NTS Insight.

5. United States Senate. 2011. Avoiding water wars: Water scarcity and Central Asia's growing importance for stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A Majority Staff Report prepared for the use of the Committee on Foreign Relations United States Senate.

6. van Genderen R. & Rood J. Water diplomacy: A niche for the Netherlands? Nethelands Institute of International Relations "GlingendaelÂ’. December 2011.

7. Wouters, P. & Ziganshina, D. 2011. Tackling the global water crisis: Unlocking international law as fundamental to the peaceful management of the world's shared transboundary waters - Introducing the H2O paradigm. In: GRAFTON, Q. & HUSSY, K. (eds.) Water Resources Planning and Management: Challenges and Solutions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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